Overcoming Struggles Through People, Community, and Creating Change

Maker News
Overcoming Struggles Through People, Community, and Creating Change
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Let’s go to the late 70’s. I once lived in a far, far away land.. Just kidding… Ok, I was a rambunctious little girl and quite the handful. My father toted me off to his construction job sites to work with him, getting me out of my stepmom’s hair. I was laying brick at 8 years old. My family’s background like many hispanics, has over 100 years of construction in their history. We were Makers without even knowing it.

Then at around 10 years old I was placed in Mac School where I learned to code Lemonade stand in the early 80’s. Those two experiences brought together my love for using my hands and my passion for technology.

I remember being a small girl and picking flowers to make perfume. I would smash them up, add water, and put them in used Gerber baby food jars. I tried to sell them. I don’t think they smelled too good. I made and built all kinds of things as a child. I was fortunate enough to live as a child during an era where it was encouraged to go outside and explore. Imagination was golden.

Fast forward a few years later, I left home at 14 years of age. I was a runaway kid living on the river. Stealing my food and foraging what I could to survive. This eventually landed me in juvenile hall for shoplifting. When I was there I was tested for school placement and I tested out of every grade up through high school. I always got good grades and enjoyed school quite a bit. School was something I missed so much being a runaway.

I left home once again after juvenile hall and had my first child Jessica at the age of 16. I was very poor and had to learn very quickly to utilize what I had to live and become resourceful with very little resources. I started thrifting and crafting to decorate my home. Second hand everything for myself and daughter. During this time the father of my child opened an auto shop and we went into business. Buying and selling cars. My job was sanding, dismantling, and taping the cars to prepare for paint.

I eventually had 5 kids by the age of 22. I had a 7th grade education and I was on welfare. Being a mom of 5 and poverty stricken, my journey of entrepreneurship came into play. I opened my first store at a flea market and eventually opened a thrift store for kids.

I painted my signs and with my father’s help, built my own racks. I had a knack for procuring things on a dime for my personal life and my businesses.

Being poor and having so many kids, you learn to make things that you want instead of buying them. Buying and re-making furniture become my passion.

When I was pregnant with kid number 6, we were so very poor. I had 6 kids in a two bedroom duplex. 5 kids slept together on two twin beds and the floor. We didn’t have a car and I was on welfare. A couple years earlier I had begged my father in-law to help me purchase a computer. At the time a PC was about 2,000 bucks. He bought me one on credit because I said I was going to be rich and famous if I got one and learned how to use it. Two years later broke, not knowing what to do with my life, I desperately wanted to get my kids out of poverty. I decided I was going to make a herbal website and sell my herbal remedies on the internet but first I needed to build a website, I went to websites like Geocities and Homestead to build one. Eventually teaching myself to code again by looking at the source code to fix ugly templates. I didn’t start a herbal remedy business but ifyoubuildit.com was born and I became a web designer.

Fast forward, I ended up using my web design skills for many more businesses to come. I opened a re-make store where brought old furniture back to life and sold junk. I have even owned a mortgage company. I have had so many businesses trying to care for my children. I eventually ended up in the Bay Area running a my web design firm and opening one of Berkeley’s first coworking spaces. I was so fortunate to have my stint in the Bay Area. I learned so much about business, the startup scene and what was brewing in Silicon Valley.

In 2012 after being in the Bay Area for almost 5 years I had to move back to Sacramento. I came back with the knowledge I gained from my experiences and my mentors. I came back wanting to create a hacker space.

One month later after running a Craigslist ad seeking Hacker, Founders and Enthusiasts, I met my first Co-Founder, Charles Blas and Hacker Lab was born. Sacramento’s first Makerspace. Our first Meetup consisted of 40 people. 40 amazing people with their own vision, dreams and ideas of what a Hacker/Maker space would be. From that moment we knew this space would be what they wanted it to be, specifically for this community. This was such a grassroots organic moment, a movement.

We started out in a 750 sq ft space. We quickly found our 3rd Co-Founder, Eric Ullrich. Together one person at a time, we built a community of people who were building community. We had Meetups weekly where seats were filled and people were trickling down hallways and stairs to get in.

Within three months we had Sacramento’s first hackathon. Over 100 creative and technology driven people attended. We knew we had something. We had a thriving grassroots community brewing and ready to do great things in our town.

In 6 months we went from 750 sq ft to 10k, all funded and fueled by the community. We didn’t have a dime or the credit but together we all made it happen. We started teaching classes that were member driven, We had community driven events. We had offices for startups and we were building a makerspace. We had no idea what we were were doing but we learned as we went. Trusting in the process and taking note of both wins and losses. All of this, run by a band of people who believed in the vision and in us.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my life was falling apart. I watched my husband’s car get repossessed . We went from living in the suburbs to the hood. We went from two cars to one. I ended up having to ride a bike to work. I had to take a huge pay cut to make this happen. So did my partner Eric Ullrich. He gave up his apartment to move back home. We drove our cars until they fell apart and we learned to live minimally.  We were pretty much volunteers for a couple years. My house burned down. No really, my house burned down! We had no money to rebuild or repurchase anything. We went homeless. Our community in Sacramento and at Hacker Lab raised the money for us and my family to get back on our feet. This is where I truly learned about the power of community and what it means to be IN IT together.

And eventually, I got a divorce and become a single mother.

Fast forward years later. We are partnered with California Community College Chancellor’s Office, which stemmed from our partnership with Sierra College. One of the first partnerships like this in the US between a community college and a Makerspace. Our efforts changed education for many Community Colleges in California. Our work lead to $16M being funded into CA Community Colleges to put Makerspaces in 20 schools in the state. We have done work for Northrop Grumman, Intel, AT&T, and VSP. We are partnered with our 6 county region and about 4 cities. We go into public schools and teach kids. We work with our local social services department to create programs that teach people to fish. We have helped other cities open spaces. We have been invited to the White House. We have two locations with over 700 members and hold over 115 classes a month. We teach thousands of people a year. Today you can come to Hacker Lab to learn everything from coding, to electronics, to photography, to woodworking, to welding, sewing and more.

We are so passionate about giving back, especially to people like myself and my friends Alona Jennings and Alan Ware, hence, we started Code For Hood. A non-profit geared towards teaching children facing adversity and poverty and all things STEAM. Code For Hood goes into “The Hood” to teach hands on and aims to level the playing field for disadvantaged youth.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be living such a wonderful dream to work with such amazing people, doing amazing things, in an amazing place. People, community, and creating change is the key to true success. We hope to keep on to doing the good work and see where the skies take us. Never give up. NEVER think you can’t!

You can hack and make your life whatever you want it to be. Make it wonderful.

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